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Can Tourism Corporations Save The World?

Media Release
18 February 2013
- for immediate release

Can Tourism Corporations Save The World?

Keynote speaker Professor Regina Scheyvens addressed the role of corporate social responsibility in the tourism industry, as the annual Council for Australasian University Tourism and Hospitality Education (CAUTHE) conference entered its second day (Wednesday 13 February) at Lincoln University last week.

Now in its 23rd year, the CAUTHE conference has attracted over 200 experts from all over the world to discuss issues around tourism and global change.

Lincoln University Adjunct Associate Professor of Sustainable Tourism Susanne Becken says with increasing globalisation, the role and responsibility of the corporation has become a key issue in the sector.

“Corporate social responsibility is becoming an increasingly important topic in tourism,” says Professor Becken.

“As more and more tourists are holidaying in developing countries, we are finding that these countries are becoming dependent on tourism. Tourism becomes everything – the key economic driver. But there are concerns around environmental impacts and social inequalities. The question is: what role do corporations play – should they be responsible for the communities they operate in?

“And what happens to a community that is reliant on tourism if a natural disaster happens? We only need to look to Christchurch and the Pacific to see the pivotal role the tourism sector plays in regional economies.”

As a Professor of Development Studies at Massey University, the focus for Regina Scheyvens’ keynote address was ‘Sun, Sand and Social Responsibility: Can Tourism Corporations Save the World?’ Her discussion drew on her interest in sustainable, equity-enhancing development strategies that can enhance the livelihoods and wellbeing of people in developing countries – and in particular, the Pacific Islands.

“There are increasing calls globally for the private sector to play a role in international development,” says Professor Scheyvens. “Pressures of global change can lead governments and the industry to make exaggerated claims about what they can achieve – economic growth, environmental protection, and alleviating poverty. But is it realistic to expect the industry to significantly change their practices so that they put people before profits?

“In recent years a number of commentators have lauded the growth of tourism in many Pacific Island countries, based on a belief that increasing tourist numbers and associated dollars will turn into direct benefits for Pacific people. In reality, Pacific Island countries are not sufficiently capturing the benefits of tourism.

“If we look to examples from Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa, there is considerable potential for further benefits to be harnessed from the tourism sector, including opportunities for locally-owned businesses, opportunities for suppliers of goods and services to the tourism sector, opportunities associated with the development of cruise tourism, and opportunities for resorts, hotels and tour operators to practice genuine corporate social responsibility.”

When the global financial crisis struck, Professor Scheyvens says many countries looked to their tourism industry to provide a way out. “In mid-2009, the Thailand Prime Minister announced that up to 55% of the new stimulus package established to help his country through the global recession would be directed at the tourism sector. Around the same time, the Fijian government almost doubled its tourism budget from F$12 million in 2008 to $23.5 million for 2009.

“Yet in Vietnam, a preoccupation with rapid economic growth has led to huge social and environmental compromises being made – the Lang Co lagoon area is testament to the fact that existing waste management systems have failed, as recognised by local leaders, but still more tourism development goes ahead.”

The problem is that it is assumed there is a connection between tourism and positive change in developing countries, says Professor Scheyvens. “Between 1992 and 1996, Peru tripled its tourist arrivals, but poverty became entrenched and the agricultural sector decreased in size.

“In Ghana, between 1985 and 1996, tourist arrivals tripled, but spatial disparities increased, quality of life of many Ghanaians declined, and high rates of foreign ownership led to economic leakages. Pressures to create an ‘enabling environment’ for foreign investment – including tax holidays and waivers of duties – can also deny developing countries revenue, making it more difficult for local businesses to compete.”

Given the significant role large tourism corporations play in these countries, Professor Scheyvens says these businesses might be best able to contribute to more sustainable tourism.

“While critics have dismissed private sector initiatives to contribute to community development, this perception is changing. Segments of the industry can, and are, changing their practices due to pressure from shareholders, tourism watchdog groups, consumers, environmental organisations, and governments. The question is whether corporate social responsibility is just window dressing; hotels may support a turtle-nesting site, but would they support labour rights legislation?”

Professor Scheyvens says degrees of corporate social responsibility can be structured into four approaches – minimalist, philanthropic, encompassing, and social activist – and more can be done to move the majority along the spectrum.

“Resorts should aim for a partnership, rather than a charitable or paternalistic approach to working with local communities. Hotels and resorts could become more socially responsible by improving linkages with suppliers of local tourism products and services, improving working conditions and labour rights, offering job security and training, and mentoring local enterprises.

“Industry associations could encourage responsible practices by asking members to regularly share examples at their meetings, contracting international chefs to run workshops on incorporating local produce into menus, and developing responsible tourism awards for best use of local produce, and best collaboration with a community.

“If Pacific Island countries are to remain attractive destinations, careful management of the socio-cultural and environmental impacts of tourism is needed, along with effective strategies for spreading the economic benefits of tourism more widely.”

Established in 1992, the annual CAUTHE conference represents universities in Australia and New Zealand that teach and research tourism and hospitality. The conference will continue through to Friday, and will include a varied programme focusing on tourism, risk and resilience; global change and the environment; tourism, productivity and innovation; transforming people and places through tourism; and indigenous tourism in a changing world – among many other themes.

Ends

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